Apparently, Edmonton is unique when it comes to homelessness. An article in the December 21, 2019 edition of the Star Edmonton (www.thestar.com/edmonton/2019/12/21/edmonton-homeless-shelter-death.html) quoted a City report on homelessness as saying, “People sleeping outside is not unique to Edmonton, but what is unique is the volume of people sleeping outside when there is sufficient capacity within the shelter system on any given night.”
I am not going to discuss all the reasons why some people choose not to sleep in shelters. A point I want to make that no one else has, is that some people are wired differently. They get claustrophobic sleeping inside. They need to sleep outside, for the good of their mental health. Many of these people are Indigenous. I met some of them when I worked in a winter shelter a while back, and I also know someone personally who described this to me. He has moved to Vancouver where he hopefully won’t freeze to death.
My point is, why is the colonial system forcing people to live inside a box when Creator has wired them contrary? Basically, they have a right to live the way they want. Of course, there are issues like cold and wind that will kill you, but there is a way to address it – think outside the box. In this case, think outside the bedroom. I can see a housing unit of tiny homes modified for someone to sleep outside. Simply, it would be like sleeping on a patio with a high fence around it for safety and privacy with some kind of overhead protection until tall trees grow big enough to provide natural shelter. The person has a locked unit – their tiny house – to take their sleeping gear in and out. How hard is that?
Another idea is a tipi village. My ancestors did not experience homelessness until the Europeans came. They lived in tipis and longhouses. Imagine that! I know there will always be pushback, but that comes from those who don’t want to be inconvenienced by anyone “not like them.”
Another thought comes from a documentary I saw about a “homeless village” in Hawaii. Everyone was responsible. They had a clan mother who managed it. This is easier there because they don’t have life-threatening extreme cold, but people are making it work. No doubt others will have other ideas.
Instead of trying to change people, work with them. It is totally possible that some people who are compelled to sleep outside are more intelligent and have greater emotional capacity than many sitting in overpaid elected positions.
Life is precious. I know people worry about homelessness because of the economic cost, not because they really care. But it is time now to think beyond the veil. What is Creator thinking? There are spiritual implications for every decision. Personally, I don’t think Creator is pleased with the blatant disregard for life demonstrated in so many ways in society today. It is a new year. Take a chance, throw off oppression and doing what is convenient, and embrace life. Let Creator bless us for doing good. We just might see a turnaround from the recession we are in.
Sharon Pasula is an Indigenous spiritual and cultural resource person who lives in Boyle Street.